North Hills West Fallout

NEIGHBORHOODS LA-The mass resignation of five female Board members, and two committee members of the North Hills West Neighborhood Council, has generated lots of discussion and action.  As I wrote in my earlier CityWatch column on North Hills West, the resignations were, according to the complainants, based on sexual harassment and age discrimination- among other charges.   

 

LA Councilwoman Nury Martinez (sixth district) filed a motion CF#11-1017, which was seconded by Councilman Bernard Parks (Chair of the Neighborhoods and Education Committee) calling on Neighborhood Councils to undergo the same sexual harassment training that City employees have to take. 

The motion also asked for a status report on what if any actions have been taken by EmpowerLA, within 30 days. Included the motion were an important couple of sentences: “We as a City must insure that our neighborhood councils are not hostile environments for community members.  Hostile environments deter stakeholders from participating in the neighborhood council process.” 

Does sexual harassment occur in Neighborhood Councils?  It may- but in my opinion a bigger problem is verbal abuse. Sexual harassment issues occur more frequently in the work place where one person has monetary power over another.  In a volunteer capacity the dynamic is different. 

Sometimes I feel like the “Dear Abby” of the Neighborhood Councils, since many of you send me difficult issues that occur in your own neighborhood councils.  Right now it seems to be running evenly between disagreements on land issue projects and verbal abuse and bullying.

Just about every NC I talk to, and although I haven’t surveyed all 95, - there is a prevailing theme that there are anywhere between 1-5 Board members or stakeholders who make life miserable for everyone… but especially the officers who are trying to do a good job. 

WE ARE ALL VOLUNTEERS- if we were getting paid -a certain amount of aggravation comes with the job.  NC’s do some amazing things and should not have to put up with those who snipe and criticize but do nothing else. I talked with one NC President today who is having trouble sleeping at night because there is a group trying to sabotage his NC and they aren’t even in his community. This group has a blog that plays fast and loose with the facts. 

Yes there is definitely freedom of speech and social media allows anyone to say what he or she wants- BUT our NC’s should not permit that kind of bullying behavior.  How many good volunteers have we lost because of a hostile environment? EmpowerLA should be addressing the issue and a 2-hour video seen once a year won’t solve the problem. 

I had a brief conversation with two NC men about the North Hills West situation when it first occurred several weeks ago.  Both are considered leaders in the NC system- one about 20 years older than the other.  The older man dismissed it out of hand by stating that the North Hills West NC had always had trouble and that the new 12 Board members had a “one issue” agenda. Since those women were among the ones that resigned he didn’t think it was an issue.  The younger man said that he also knew the parties and was surprised at some of the emails exchanged. He also said it shouldn’t be “blown out of proportion.”  They just didn’t “get it.” 

No, most times the barbs are not quite as blatant as those in “Mad Men”- but they are meant to make the person feel inferior, using poor judgment etc.   The bully’s on the Board couch it in terms of “We are just doing this to insure our NC doesn’t get into trouble with EmpowerLA.”  They want to stay in their respective offices forever.   As Councilman Parks commented in the seminar about “NC’s and the next ten years,”  Some Neighborhood Councils make the procedure the issue-not the policy or content.   

How many of you have someone on your Board, who if he or she doesn’t like something that was passed, or had some funding complaint, called “downtown” to complain.   This puts Grayce Liu and her staff in an uncomfortable position and overburdens an already over burdened staff. 

So….this will not be solved over night.  It will be instructional for all of us to see what the City Attorney says about the North Hills West situation.  How do you define verbal abuse?  I don’t have the answers but I think at least we can do, is recognize that we do have a problem. It is not an isolated incident; and it is in our hands to solve it.   There was a workshop on “adult bullying” at the NC Congress a couple of weeks ago.  Going to NC meetings should be a meaningful and enjoyable experience.  We are all- or at least most of us- working to make our communities better.

 

(Denyse Selesnick is 2nd Vice President  of the Tarzana Neighborhood Council and a Contributor to CityWatch, covering the Neighborhood Councils.  She can be reached at [email protected]

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 11 Issue 84

Pub: Oct 18, 2013